Jesse Metcalfe - Jack Romero
Keile Sanchez - Lilly Romero
Peter Stormare - Dr. Gianetti
Kevin Sussman - David
Olivia Munn - Nurse Nancy Chen
Molly Bryant - Nurse Henderson
Armin Shimerman - Hawthorne
Genre - Horror/Zombie/Cannibal
Running Time - 89 Minutes
Score - 3 Howls Outta 4
Having a certain family member who has issues with paranoid-schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, I've visited a mental ward more than one should have to. It's not a pleasant place. It feels like cold death sending chills down your spine. It's uncomfortable. It's disturbing. And I was only visiting for a half-hour. I couldn't imagine staying in a mental ward for a month.
However, there are some who are willing to take that chance to protect their ill family member inside a mental asylum. Take former Passions and Desperate Housewives star Jesse Metcalfe's character in the direct-to-DVD feature, INSANITARIUM. The guy is willing to suffer inside a twisted asylum just to make sure no harm is done to his suicidal sister. Yeah, that's pretty much an idiotic idea if I ever saw one - but at least we get a good film out of it.
Jack (Jesse Metcalfe) is not in a good place. His parents are dead and his sister Lilly (Kiele Sanchez) is in a mental asylum after attempting suicide. The psychiatric hospital refuses Jack to visit Lilly for whatever reason, frustrating him to no end. Feeling like he's failed the only family he has left, he decides to do what any normal individual would do: cut his hair, slash his chest with a knife, and run out of his house like a bleeding, raving lunatic until the cops arrive and let the mental health board deal with his stupid ass.
Inside the asylum, Jack meets the very creepy Dr. Gianetti (Peter Stormare), who introduces Jack to a bunch of wackjobs with really weird eyes - including the Hannibal Lecter-like Hawthorne (Armin Shimerman). While suffering inside the asylum, he begins to learn that Dr. Gianetti is conducting mad experiments on his patients by testing some drug called Orpheum on them. It apparently takes away all the illness one has in the brain and turns the patients into primal creatures, making them want to sleep, have sex, and especially eat - like blood and raw flesh. You see, Orpheum turns people into cannibalistic "zombies" [a la 28 DAYS LATER] and Jack learns that Lilly may be next in receiving the treatment, hoping to stop Dr. Gianetti in time.
INSANITARIUM is directed and written by MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN scribe, Jeff Buhler. The film was supposed to have a theatrical release this year, but somehow it was shelved for whatever reason. Usually this is a bad sign, meaning the film most likely sucks. Even alot of the reviews for this one have not been kind either. So here I was expecting to find a lot of negativity with INSANITARIUM. But I guess I'm in the minority because to my surprise, I really liked INSANITARIUM!
The film had an 80s horror vibe that I really dug alot. I think it's the hospital setting, which reminds me of 80s horror flicks like HALLOWEEN II, THE BEYOND, HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 3: DREAM WARRIORS, and so on. You never see MP3 players or cell phones in the film. It's just characters trapped inside a very bright and huge mental asylum where there's really no escape. It creates a claustophobic location that's perfect for a film like this, especially when most of the patients turn into flesh-hungry "zombies". When a group of these things chase after you and there's no way out, what do you think is gonna happen? I liked the setup a great deal.
The story isn't all that original, but it worked for me. I saw this as a mixture of Prison Break meets 28 DAYS LATER. Without the horror material, it would have been a total ripoff of the FOX show, but thankfully all the blood, guts, and gore was added to hide that fact. I found INSANITARIUM to be like one of those classic monster flicks with the mad scientist abusing his patients by playing God with their lives and creating something that's the total opposite of what God represents. The hero finds out and tries to save the day with as many survivors as possible, but it only leads to more Hell breaking loose. It's very simple in its execution and never boring.
Jeff Buhler sets up the story pretty nicely. The first half is pretty much the introduction to the characters and the slight character development needed to move the film into the more horror-like second half that feels like a video game with the survivors trying to escape the asylum while fending off hungry cannibals. INSANITARIUM could have just been about a guy trying to save his sister from an evil doctor. But with the introduction of the experiments, you're very eager to see what will happen next and how this all will be contained. It never lets up and I think most horror fans would appreciate a fast-paced film.
There are glaring issues with the story though. I think the development of the main characters, especially Jack and Dr. Gianetti, are good enough to where we can root for Jack and hope he stops the mad doctor from achieving his goal. However, I think the supporting characters could have used some because they became pretty stereotypical to the point where you didn't really care so much about them as you do Jack and Gianetti. I feel all characters should have some kind of development and some people who were crucial to the plot didn't get enough of it. It may have been due to a large cast of characters, but that's not really an excuse. It doesn't really hurt the film much though.
I also didn't like the ending either. It's extremely generic and overly predictable, to the point where you just roll your eyes at it because you've seen it so many times before. It almost ruined the film for me because I just thought the film could have ended on a better note. Didn't dig it at all.
I also thought the plot holes were particularly funny as well. Especially when Jack stabs someone on Orpheum with a knife and puts the blood-stained weapon in his mouth while he climbs a vent. In the film, coming in contact with the infected blood [either by being bitten or tasting it] would turn you into one of these monsters. But Jack never gets infected or even thinks about the possibility of getting infected by having the weapon in his mouth. I kept thinking about that until the film finished, thinking Jack would turn. But nope, he never does.
Jeff Buhler directs INSANITARIUM quite well, considering this is the first full-length film he's ever made. Buhler, like I mentioned, infuses the film with an 80-ish vibe, especially since it's shot without quick cuts or shaky cam, letting the film play out nicely so suspense and tension can build even during the quietest of moments. It's extremely well paced and moves fairly quickly for 89 minutes. Even the cinematography is beautifully shot. While there are some cliches, Buhler doesn't totally rely on a lot of them to visualize his story. For a debut, I'm very impressed by what I saw. The guy is a natural at creating horror and I like to see him continue in the genre.
The gore/SFX in INSANITARIUM is pretty good. There's a lot of red stuff to go around. There's a lot of deaths involving people eating flesh, inpalements, and a whole bunch of other stuff. It never looks fake at all and I liked what I was seeing. Especially that scene where a cat is decapitated and feasted on. It actually made me cringe. Nicely done.
The acting was also decent for a direct-to-DVD horror flick. Jesse Metcalfe, who's best known for his work on Passions and Desperate Housewives, impressed me a great deal as Jack. Metcalfe is known more for his pretty-boy looks than his acting talent, so I was surprised to learn that Metcalfe actually does talent in the industry. He knows how to emote. He delivers his lines convincingly. He gave Jack a lot more depth than the screenplay allowed. I liked him here and he carried the film very well. Very heroic performance that will be disappointingly missed by a lot of people because of lack of box office presence. This film could have made Metcalfe a bigger star if given the attention from the movie studio. And Peter Stormare plays the nutty Dr. Gianetti believably and sadistically. He was a nice foil to Jack and was very creepy in the role.
Kiele Sanchez was okay as Lilly. She doesn't really get much to do but cry, scream, and stab people, but she was okay I guess. Olivia Munn had less to do, but damn it if I don't mind looking at her. If G4's Attack of the Show has one viewer, it's probably me. Armin Shimerman, best known for his work on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, steals the film as the Hannibal-like Hawthorne. He doesn't have much screen time but he captures your attention everytime he's on film. Can't help but like that sinister bastard. And Kevin Sussman was cool as the paranoid David. More than passable acting quality here.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE LETTING MY SISTER ROT IN A MENTAL INSTITUTION
- Jack cut his chest with a knife and made a scene at a park in order to get himself committed to a mental asylum just to be near his sister. After starring on Passions and dealing with that annoying bitch, Charity, I'm surprised he didn't do this a long time ago!
- Some crazy dude attacked Nurse Nancy Chen. He was probably mad because his mom didn't give him a Pepsi. I mean geez, all he wanted was a Pepsi. This is how Suicidal Tendencies get started!
- Jack got a crazy stalker within two days of being institutionalized. I guess she was desperate to get her bush trimmed or get sprayed by his hose.
- The same stalker gets nightly visits from Charles, the black security guard. I guess they were re-enacting certain scenes from the classic ANACONDA. Or was it SQUIRM? Hmm, I'm not sure if the myth applies to him.
- Dr. Gianetti tied his assistant, cut her thigh and her panties before humping her for less than a minute. Not only is his sexual performance embarrassing, but he could at least fed her first. And not with his penis...
- Some nut ripped a cat's head off of its body. Talk about tearing into pussy!
- Never get close to a blood hungry mental patient. He'll break and chew your arm off. Don't fret. At least you now can play drums for Def Leppard!
- Nancy resigned from being a nurse at the mental asylum by stabbing a fellow nurse. Funny...getting "stabbed" was probably how Nancy got the job in the first place!
THE FINAL HOWL
Although a lot of people bashed this one, I dug INSANITARIUM. It's not the greatest film in the world and the flaws are hard to overlook with this one, but I wasn't really expecting much and gained a lot more. How those horrible remakes for ONE MISSED CALL and PROM NIGHT can get distributed in theatres across the world and INSANITARIUM get shelved straight for the DVD market is beyond me. INSANITARIUM is one of the better horror flicks I've seen for 2008 and deserved its shot outside those white padded walls. I recommend a solid rental for this film. Hopefully you'll enjoy the fleshy feast as much as I did.